What is a debt, and what happens if my real estate agent says I have one?

A debt is an amount of money that you owe to someone else. Debts that you may incur as a result of living in a rental property can include:

  • Rent arrears
  • Electricity, gas, telephone and internet bills
  • Water bills
  • bills for repairs to damage you did to the property

There are many reasons for being unable to meet debt repayments: job loss, illness, relationship issues, addictions, business failures and over-commitment are just some of the reasons. Not being able to pay a debt is not the same thing as not wanting to pay it. Many people in difficult circumstances still want to pay but just don’t have the money.

Before paying any debt, you should be sure that you are legally responsible for it.

If you are legally responsible for payment of the amount that you are being asked to pay, then you have an obligation to pay.

If you are not legally responsible for payment of a debt you should not be paying it.

If you have any doubts about whether you are legally responsible for any debt, always seek advice.

Certain types of debts are treated differently…

Rent arrears

See our factsheet on rent arrears as different rules apply.

Utilities debts

There are rules about whether or not you have to pay for utilities bills. If you are not sure if you have to pay utilities bills, see our FAQ here.

If you do have to pay for utilities but are having difficulties paying those bills please see here for information on the assistance that is available.

Some real estate agents send tenants invoices for water bills that are in the landlord’s name. If this happens, and you know you are responsible to pay for water consumption then you are entitled to see a copy of the actual bill from the utilities provider. If you disagree with the amount shown on the bill you can call the Tenants Advice Service for further information and advice. Also see our FAQ on utilities bills.

If you think your bill may have been caused by a problem with an appliance and/or the landlord’s failure to repair it within the required time-frame (e.g. water heater, cooling system) at your property then see our factsheet on repairs here – you may be able to argue that the landlord should make a contribution to the bills.

Invoices from real estate agents for repairs or break lase fees

Tenants have reported to us that real estate agents may sometimes send tenants an invoice for repair work done on the property, or an invoice for a so called “break lease fee”.

Break lease fees

If you have received an invoice for a break lease fee, you should see our FAQ on break lease fees here to see if you are required to pay the full amount.

You should also be aware that under the Australian Consumer Law, it is an offence to assert a right to payment for unsolicited goods or services.  Examples of “asserting a right to payment” include issuing an invoice. An invoice should only be issued where there is a right to payment for goods or services, and should be issued to the person who has solicited those goods or services. As the services that are solicited (asked for) in a situation where you end a fixed term tenancy early are services the landlord is asking the real estate agent to deliver, they should not send you an invoice for those services. However, in these situations, you may owe compensation to the landlord, so see our factsheet on ending a tenancy and breaking a lease to be clear on what you might have to pay for.


Sometimes a real estate agent may ask you to pay for repairs. If you have received an invoice for repairs, but you have not agreed to pay for the repair work, or you have had urgent repairs done in accordance with the procedure set out in the tenancy agreement [clauses 61 and 62] then you should not be responsible for paying an invoice for costs related to those repairs. In general a landlord is responsible for any costs associated with repairs to the property. If you are in doubt, seek advice.

If you think you are not responsible for paying an invoice, you can call the Tenants Advice Service for further information and advice.

If you have any other debts that are not covered in the information above you can contact Care Inc.’s Financial Counselling service on 6257 1788 or visit their website here.

Reviewed: 3/12/13



Tenants’ Union ACT publishes this website as a free service to the public. Please note that the information on this site is only relevant to renters in the ACT.

This website provides information about the law designed to help users understand their legal rights and obligations. However legal information is not the same as legal advice (the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances). Although we make all efforts to ensure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult the Tenants Advice Service for advice specific to your circumstances. You are also free to consult an independent solicitor for a second opinion.

Please note that this website is NOT intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice or opinions and the transmission of this information is NOT intended to create a solicitor-client relationship between the Tenants’ Union ACT and members of the public.

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